Kansas may soon capitalize on wind power

In fact, a ranking released last week dropped Kansas from 11th to 14th among states in its actual capacity to produce wind power.

But regulatory action in coming days will be key to constructing and building a transmission line linking windy western Kansas to the rest of the state and beyond. And once that line and others are in place, Kansas could become a national leader in wind turbines production — which also might lead to wind turbine manufacturing jobs.

The Southwest Power Pool, a regional organization that manages power transmission, plans to submit a filing Monday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It seeks approval to charge ratepayers in the pool’s eight-state region for the cost of constructing a 180-mile transmission line from Spearville in western Kansas to Wichita, with a connection to Oklahoma.

Gov. Mark Parkinson told The Eagle editorial board that this request is "a huge victory," because the high cost of building the transmission line wouldn’t be borne only by Kansans.

Emily Pennel, communications manager of the power pool, which is based in Little Rock, described the tariff request as "a big change" that "will really spur development."

Kansas has been working on this "V plan" project for several years and has companies lined up to build and operate the high-voltage line. The Southwest Power Pool board is expected to sign off on the project next week, and it hopes to have it in place by 2013.

Another transmission line from Spearville to Nebraska already has been approved by the power pool and by FERC and has begun the siting process (including a public hearing last week). That line is also expected to be operational by 2013.

A new line also was completed recently between Wichita and Hutchinson, and one between Hutchinson and Salina is under way. Another line from Wichita to Oklahoma is expected to be completed in 2012.

The new transmission lines will allow Kansas to greatly expand its wind energy production and ship power out of state, which will be a significant economic boost.

Another key to expanding wind farm production is the federal government’s approval of a renewable energy standard, which would require electricity producers to make or purchase a percentage of their power from renewable resources — thus increasing export demand for Kansas wind energy.

But the standard has stalled in the Senate. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who is a member of the Senate Energy Committee and supports an RES, needs to help push through a strong standard.

Though Kansas currently generates only about 10 percent of its wind energy potential, the state is making strides in being able to profit from its winds. And with some regulatory action and a few more transmission lines, Kansas could soon become, as Brownback described it, "the Saudi Arabia of wind power."

By Phillip Brownlee, The Wichita Eagle, www.kansas.com